You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not get drunk on a giant plastic swan or roll up some cash because you're gonna do a line of coke because why else would you roll up a dollar bill, I'm telling you why. Johnny Football's coming to town.
To fill me in on the Browns and what to expect today, I linked up with Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation's community for fans of the Cleveland Browns.
So anything going on with the Browns this offseason? Haven't heard much about you guys...let's get the Manziel stuff outta the way. How do Browns fans feel about Hoyer being named the starter? Worried that Manziel didn't play his way into the role by this point? How do you feel about the way Pettine and the rest of the staff have handled the whole situation?
Although there is a split among the fan base regarding the quarterback competition, I think the majority of fans are content with Brian Hoyer being named the starter. It would have been a different story if Manziel had looked sharp in training camp and during the preseason, but he still needs a lot of fine-tuning. Hoyer was the favorite coming in, so it was his job to lose. He didn't elevate his stock, but he hasn't done anything to lower it significantly.
In hindsight, I think Pettine could have handled the quarterback situation a little better, although the important thing was to name a starter heading into the third preseason game. I went to four training camp sessions this year, and the constant rotating of reps between Hoyer and Manziel with the first-team offense never seemed to do any favors when it came to building chemistry with the receivers and the offensive line. Hopefully, the offense will find more of a rhythm now that they know one guy will be under center.
On to the rest of the offense. With Josh Gordon out...well let's just assume for the year, how is the rest of the offense stacking up? Is the offensive line a concern? Who's stepping up in the receiving game?
The offensive line is not much of a concern, although there is still a certain level of uncertainty because we aren't sure how the right side of our line will handle the new zone-blocking scheme once the regular season begins. If Josh Gordon is out, we have no idea who will step up in the receiving game. Obviously Jordan Cameron will be due for a big year, but I'm talking more about the wide receiver position. Andrew Hawkins is a weapon, but more of a slot threat. Guys like Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, and Anthony Armstrong have veteran experience, but each of them have either had injury issues, are past their prime, or have had gaps of years since their last significant playing time.
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Defensively, how is the pass rush looking? With your secondary, I expect they'll only need a median pass rush to succeed against the pass. Is that overstating things?
The pass-rush for the Browns was good at the beginning of last year, but became somewhat of a disappointment as the year went on. We're hoping that Mike Pettine can improve the Browns' pass rush in the front seven, considering where he had the Bills last year as the league leaders in sacks. Paul Kruger has looked more "alive" in two preseason games after falling off the radar the second half of last season, so we're hoping that is a promising sign. One possible stud is defensive end Armonty Bryant, who has been very quick on the rush and could get the Week 1 start due to a wrist injury to Desmond Bryant.
A good pass rush will always assist the secondary, but the hope is that our secondary would not depend on that. Joe Haden is being paid like the best cornerback in the NFL, and our No. 8 overall pick of the draft, Justin Gilbert, is supposed to be able to play good press coverage. Both of our safeties, Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, are supposed to specialize more against the pass as well. Pettine sacrificed good run defenders for good coverage guys this offseason, but I think the depth of the Browns' defensive line will help ensure that the run defense isn't a liability either.
How's the rookie class, aside from Manziel, coming along? Any standouts to this point? Any surprises from the late picks/UDFAs?
The good news is that four rookie draft picks, first-round cornerback Justin Gilbert, second-round offensive guard Joel Bitonio, third-round inside linebacker Chris Kirksey, and third-round running back Terrance West are all expected to contribute this year. Bitinio is the only firm starter in that group, while Gilbert will either start Week 1 or be the third cornerback. Kirksey is in a competition for a starting role with Craig Robertson, but the duo might just split reps during the regular season. West will see a lot of action as the backup to Ben Tate. Each of the four players mentioned have had good camps. The only undrafted free agent who has turned heads this offseason is wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. He is a tiny wide receiver from a small school, but has risen up the depth chart in camp, and some wonder if he might sneak on to the 53-man roster.
What's the biggest concern overall for you guys in 2014? What constitutes a "successful" season for the Browns this year? Since you guys haven't topped 5 wins since 2007, is that a fair expectation for what you want to see from Pettine's first season as HC?
The biggest concern is everything related to the offense, which could never beat our defense in training camp. At the end of practices, Pettine held a competition between the offense and the defense, and whoever won got the pride of wearing orange jerseys the following day in practice. The defense won those drills every single time. That's why Cleveland's lack of touchdowns in two preseason games hasn't come off as a surprise; what we've seen in the preseason matches the results of what we've seen in camp.
Because of how good our defense is projected to be, I'll set the expectations for the Browns to be seven wins. Despite the Browns' history, five wins is not a fair expectation for Pettine. Nothing was done to indicate Cleveland is in a re-building mode. All of the front office and offseason moves, such as signing veteran free agents Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, show a win-now mentality. Our owner, Jimmy Haslam, has proven to have a quick trigger in firing people, so Pettine and the Browns need to deliver as soon as possible .
Thanks to Chris for the time.